art of resistance, Libya

Khaled Mattawa | Bedtime Reading For The Unborn Child.

2013-09-10-iran-artist-2 /art by Hayv Kahraman/

Khaled Mattawa is a wonderful Libyan-American writer, poet and a translator. Mattawa’s poetry frequently explores the intersection of culture, narrative, and memory.

Here is one of his beautiful poems, Bedtime Reading for the Unborn Child, from the collection Amorisco (Copper Canyon Press, 2008).

Long after the sun falls into the sea

and twilight slips off the horizon like a velvet sheet

and the air gets soaked in blackness;

long after clouds hover above like boulders

and stars crawl up and stud the sky;

long after bodies tangle, dance, and falter

and fatigue blows in and bends them

and sleep unloads its dreams and kneads them

and sleepers dive into the rivers inside them,

a girl unlatches a window,

walks shoeless into a forest,

her dark hair a flag rippling in darkness.

.

She walks into woods, her feet light-stepping

through puddles, over hard packed dirt,

through grassy hills, over sticks and pebbles

over sand soaked in day, stones sun-sizzled

over lakes and frigid streams

through dim cobbled streets

darkened squares and dusty pastures.

She runs from nothing, runs to nothing,

beyond pain, beyond graveyards and clearings.

In the dark the eyes of startled creatures

gleam like a herd of candles.

They scatter and give night its meaning.

.

What echo of a bell lulled her

what spirit, what scent of a word

whose storm wrote her

what banks fell to drown her

which blood star

which thread of water

which trickle of light

whose heart being launched

whose floating soul seduced her

what promise did it make her

whose memory burned her

whose prayer did she run to answer

whose help, what sorrow clot

what pain dammed inside her

what wall must she rebuild now

whose treasure beckons her

who spread ivy like a veil to blind her?

Daybreak lies chained to a blue wall

from which the stars drop

and lose all meaning.

.

She runs past villages that lost their names

roads that lost their destinations

seas that lost their compasses and sailors

rivers that lost their marshlands and travelers

houses that lost their sleepers and criers

trees that lost their songs and shadows

gardens that lost their violets and benches

valleys that lost their worms and farmers

mountains that lost their prophets and marauders

temples that lost their sinners and spires

lightning that lost its silver and wires

chimeras that lost their bridges

minotaurs that lost their fountains.

Crescent moons hover above her,

ancient white feathers, birdless, wingless

lost to their own meaning.

.

Music rises out of her vision.

It stands, a wall covered with silver mosses.

A clarinet sounds a wounded mare,

violins women who lost their children.

Flutes blow their hot dry breezes.

Drums chuckle the earth’s ceaseless laughter.

Pianos are mumbling sorcerers

calling spirits and powers.

Cellos chew on the sounds of thunder.

Dulcimers skip about on crutches.

Dance floors flash their knives

daring their dancers.

Words mill about the streets like orphans.

Then a lute begins groaning

and dawn loses its meaning.

.

Night girl, night girl

your book is full now.

You have drawn all the pictures.

You have seen many weepers.

Stars held your sky in place and moons

floated on your lakes and washed them.

.

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art of resistance, Libya

The Book To Read: In The Country Of Men.

Textiles of a city Najla Shawakat Fitouri/Textiles of a city by Najla Shawket Fitouri, image © Noon Arts/

Libya, where art thou? That is a question I already asked – a lot of times. There are no certain answers, but I still manage to find Libya and its people, to catch a small glimpse of their lives.

It doesn’t happen through media and daily news, Libya is still a zero-interest story for most of those outlets. I go through libraries, art exhibitions, old and new photos – that is how a part of the country, a part of its history, a part of the daily lives of some of its people is revealed to me today.

One of those moments happened with Hisham Matar’s book In the Country of Men. It is Matar’s debut novel, first published in 2006. It has been translated into many languages and has won numerous awards.

It is a book about Suleiman, a nine-year-old boy living in Tripoli, stuck between a father whose anti-Qaddafi activities bring about searches, stalkings and telephone eaves droppings by the state police, and a vulnerable young mother who resorts to alcohol, her “medicine”, to bury her anxiety, anger and powerlessness.

Matar’s own family fled Libya for Egypt in 1979, and his father, a former UN diplomat and political dissident, was kidnapped in 1990 in Cairo, while Matar was studying in London. In the Country of Men is an autobiographical book in many ways.

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Through the eyes of a young boy, the novel explores his relationship with his unwell mother and his uneasy relationship with his father. Matar writes beautifully:

“Although her unpredictability and her urgent stories tormented me,my vigil and what I then could only explain as her illness bound us into an intimacy that has since occupied the innermost memory I have of love. There was anger, there was pity, even the dark warm embrace of hate, but always love and always the joy that surrounds the beginning of love.”

Coping with the harsh and counfusing reality around him, Suleiman makes disturbing decisions, he isn’t afraid when a normal child would be, and it easily leads to (more) destruction around him. He feels emotionally distant at times, and it is unusual to see a child act that way – it makes you think about the heavy influences of the tense and violent environment he lives in.

At the end of this simple but powerful novel, fifteen years later, the narrator looks back with regret at a life interrupted by political forces that have left him distrustful, displaced, alienated, half empty.

Matar writes:

“I suffer an absence, an ever-present absence, like an orphan not entirely certain of what he has missed or gained through his unchosen loss. I am both repulsed and surprised, for example, by my exaggerated sentiment when parting with people I am not intimate with, promising impossible reunions. Egypt has not replaced Libya. Instead, there is this void, this emptiness I am trying to get at like someone frightened of the dark, searching for a match to strike.”

In the Country of Men is highly memorable, it feels honest – and there’s a special and rare beauty in that.

• • •

Previous The Book To Read:

After Zionism

The French Intifada

The Librarian of Basra

A Hand Full Of Stars

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art of resistance

Five For Friday: A(nother) Year Of Writing.

Umm-Kulthum-3/The Best Lady Of Them All,  © Chant Avedissian: Cairo Stencils. Issa, Rose (Ed.) London: SAQI/

Two days ago was Umm Kulthum’s death anniversary (the best lady of them all). Tomorrow is Middle East Revised’s second birthday.

That is the reason why this edition of Five for Friday will be a little bit different. It’s five categories and each one of them includes something I really liked (writing about) throughout the year. Hope you’ll enjoy it and find something interesting.

1. Book Palestinian Walks, Notes On A Vanishing Landscape

DSC08257/Wadi Rum, photo © Ivana Perić, MER/

It’s hard to choose one book, and many more wonderful writings wait for you if you scroll though The Book To Read section. However, there was something special about Raja Shehadeh’s experience presented in this lovely book.

Seven walks captured in the book span a period of twenty-seven years, in the hills around Ramallah, in the Jerusalem wilderness and through ravines by the Dead Sea. Each walk takes place at a different stage of Palestinian history.

The loss of such a simple pleasure as walking around freely is much more important than it might seem, for it exists within a much greater loss – deprivations of an entire people estranged from their land. Read the full review of the book for more.

2. Interview – Samar Hazboun On Living And Working Under Occupation & All That’s Left Is Women Wearing Black

hush/photo © Samar Hazboun/

These two interviews were and are so important to me. I am so happy I managed to speak to Samar Hazboun and Aida Baghdadi, both brave, creative, inspiring souls. Hazboun is a great Palestinian photographer, Aida is a great Syrian lawyer and human rights activist.

Samar’s work is always filled with depth and empathy. She makes projects and not products, her work is a constant learning experience, and not a calculated pose. Read the full interview.

Aida Baghdadi managed to break my heart and put it back together at the same time. We were both crying at the end of the interview, and it’s the first time that ever happened to me. Read the interview here.

While you’re reading it, remember Syria is more than numbers, more than a word you hear all the time – Syria is Aida, her family, her friends, her dreams, her love. And she is just one person.

3. Film – The Dupes 

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The Dupes is a film by Tewfik Saleh, based on Ghassan Kanafani’s novella Men in the Sun. It’s one of the many films I wrote about throughout the year, but it stands out because it reminds me of so many other things that happened this year. It’s more than just one film, it means more…

It is the story of three men who try to leave their impoverished and hopeless lives to get work in Kuwait. They hire a water-truck driver to transport them illegally across the border in the tank of his truck.

The journey is not an easy one. It’s a journey that millions of people embark on nowadays. They are the dupes of our time. Read all about it here.

For more films, I recommend two other Five For Friday posts: Ten Years In Turkish Cinema & 90’s Iranian Cinema (just to name a few).

4. Remembering Sessions Leila Alaoui: The Moroccans

moroccans/photo © Leila Alaoui/

I already wrote it – it seems way to early to pay respect to Leila Alaoui, talented French-Moroccan photographer, in MER’s Remembering sessions. Unfortunately, Alaoui succumbed to her injuries sustained in the Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) terrorist attacks.

One of her most beautiful projects was The Moroccans. It is visible how she was interested in dignity, in humanity. She gave herself to that struggle. I hope she will remembered for that – it’s the greatest legacy one can leave. Read more about Alaoui and her work here.

5. Photo EssayShatila, Still An Open Wound & Afghan Women

shatila 2 ivana/photo © Ivana Perić, MER/

Shatila stayed on my mind ever since I visited Beirut. It was one of the moments of the year that will stay with me forever. But that “burden” is nothing when you compare it those people in Shatila have to carry. Most of the things we know about Shatila are connected to the massacre of Sabra and Shatila (1982) and the War of the camps (1984 – 1989).

Since all of those events took part during the Lebanese civil war I think our brain tends to put them in the “past” department. But there is no “past” departments in Shatila, everything spills into present. Read about it and see the photos here.

Afghan Women is a beautiful photo series by Farzana Wahidy. She’s an amazing Afghan woman herself – she was the first female Afghan photojournalist to work for an international wire service.

The post is decidated to Wahidy and the women she captured in her photos, but I also wrote about Nadia Anjuman and her poetry and Setara from the Afghan Star. Read it!

Two other photo essays/series I would like to add to this great category – Yemen: In Beauty And Sorrow (all captured by lovely Jonathon Collins) & Libya, Where Art Thou? (about Naziha Arebi and her photos of everyday life in Libya).

Bonus songYalalela by Fadimoutou Wallet Inamoud

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What’s birthday without music?

Thank you all for reading and let’s keep growing together! ♡

• • •

Previous Five For Friday:

Ten Years In Turkish Cinema

90’s Iranian Cinema

Postcards From Syrian Refugees

Costs of War

Conversations With History

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art of resistance, Libya

Libya, Where Art Thou?

li/Dawn at Tripoli, Libya, photo © Naziha Arebi/

It’s so hard to get informed about Libya these days. It’s like Libya doesn’t exist for the mainstream media. Not even a glimpse of life there, not even a small peek. Where are you Libya, how are you?

One of the rare places where I get a small insight in the situation in Libya during the last couple of years, is a tumblr page run by Naziha Arebi, Libyan photographer and artist. I don’t know Arebi, but I thank her and her stories.

Sometimes they disturbed me, sometimes they made me happy – and every new story was a proof that Libya is still alive, that there was some normalcy – like seeing seasons changing, people going to work.

Here are some of Arebi’s photos from various parts of Libya, taken in the period of last three years (2012-2015).

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ans

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/all photos © Naziha Arebi/

For more on Arebi and her work, visit her page.

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Libya

Libya: A Story Forgotten.

Libya. A story forgotten. In Bedtime Reading for the Unborn Child, Libyan poet Khaled Mattawa writes: “Night girl, night girl/your book is full now/You have drawn all the pictures/You have seen many weepers.”

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Unfortunately, it seems like it is still not time for dawn in Libya. The country was destroyed by a war prosecuted by NATO, and the wreckage is now more visible than ever. I went through the photos Magnum’s photographer Michael Christopher Brown took during the Libyan civil war in 2011. The paradoxes and ironies of these photos are so bitter and obvious, as I am reading news from Libya now, four years later.

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Gaddafi’s death (the killing of Gaddafi) didn’t bring freedom. And it didn’t bring peace. NATO’s intervention in Libya was not, as many have praised it, a humanitarian success. It wasn’t, as it was hailed, a ‘model intervention’. It was a boomerang that came back to beat up the people of Libya.

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Libya’s civil war continued, and the number of victimis (tens of thousands of civilians) continues to grow to this day. This so praised intervention was a model of failure (as most of the interventions are). We now know that Gaddafi did not initiate Libya’s violence by targeting peaceful protesters. The United Nations and Amnesty International have documented that in all four Libyan cities initially consumed by civil conflict in mid-February 2011—Benghazi, Al Bayda, Tripoli, and Misurata—violence was actually initiated by the protesters.

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That is not to say that Gaddafi didn’t have his sins and his share of wrongdoings. But NATO’s main goal in Libya was not protecting civilians, it was not ‘justice, finally’. Its primary aim was to overthrow Gaddafi’s regime, even at the expense of increasing the harm to Libyans. And that is what happened.

NYC136529Libya is now a true victim of the Arab Cold War, where the regional entities are utilizing Libya as a battleground for their own particular policy, whether it’s Saudi Arabia and Egypt, on one side, or Turkey and Qatar, on the other. And now – the western governments remain silent. The American Embassy is no longer in Libya, it is in Malta. Not our business anymore.

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The two competing governments in Libya are mainly fighting about oil, of course. The people of Libya are left to wander in the dark abyss, forgotten and ignored by their government(s) and by the international community.

NYC136549It’s a state of total chaos. Radical Islamist groups, which were suppressed under Gaddafi, emerged as the fiercest rebels during the war. And it is not just Libya. Mali, which previously had been the region’s exceptional example of peace (and democracy) went through many changes. After Gaddafi’s defeat, his ethnic Tuareg soldiers of Malian descent fled home and launched a rebellion in their country’s north, prompting the Malian army to overthrow the president. In 2012, the northern half of Mali had become ‘the largest territory controlled by Islamic extremists in the world,’ according to the chairman ofthe U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Africa.

NYC136560And now we have ISIL. The whole MENA region changed drastically. Libya, Syria, Iraq, Egypt… You name it. As Riverbend wrote: “When will things improve? When will be able to live normally? How long will it take?” These questions, asked by the ‘regular’ people, the biggest victims of all the conflicts that ever took place on this great Earth, are met with silence.

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The silence, once again, drowns the screams. And peace? Peace is a dream buried by the indifference.

//all photos © Michael Christopher Brown/Magnum Photos, Libyan Civil War 2011//

• • •

For more on Libya, I recommend reading Alan J. Kuperman’s Lessons From Libya: How Not to Intervene.

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art of resistance

What Do You Call it & A Dialogue For Peace.

Here are two great short animated films I recently stumbled upon. One is about naming, second about dialogue, so they kind of fit together great. The first one was done by the Syrian feminist group Estayqazat. The film is about a special part of a female body. It is… Wait… What do you call it?

“Mankind comes to the world due to it, more than half of the world’s population is defined by it, and it gives pleasure to both women and men. But how do we talk about what we don’t have a name for – or have a name that we will not speak? Silence creates confusion, and confusion then again is covered up in silence. So, what do you call it? A number of Syrian women put their words of it into the public. Now you know too.”

The second one was a collaboration of four cartoonists (from Syria, Libya, Yemen, and Tunisia) to find common ground in creating a 2-minute speed drawing video for peace.

“Dialogue is the preffered approach to resolve our issues in MENA – be it in our families, communities, or societies as a whole.”

 

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